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Spartans' suffocating defense stymies Hawks
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Spartans' suffocating defense stymies Hawks

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DES MOINES — When you scroll through the top goal scorers in Iowa Class 3A boys soccer this season, nobody from Pleasant Valley High School appears in the top 25.

The Spartans, in fact, have only two players with more than a half-dozen goals this spring.

PV is far from an offensive juggernaut, but when it has an all-conference goalkeeper and a stingy back line, it doesn’t have to be overly proficient at finding the back of the net.

Just like it has done for most of the season, PV rode its defense to the state semifinals Tuesday evening with a 1-0 triumph over second-ranked and third-seeded Cedar Rapids Prairie at the Cownie Soccer Complex.

“It is not a surprise to us we can hold the second-ranked team in the state to no goals,” senior defender Jack Roemer said. “We have so much confidence in each other that it should be expected for our program.

“That has been our talk the whole season. If we get a goal early, we can hang onto it.”

Fifth-ranked and sixth-seeded PV (18-3) had only eight shots for the match. It was the one in the 18th minute that was the difference.

Roemer slipped a pass to Justin Ancelet. The junior found a cutting Bryce Rubel, who worked his way into the box and buried a low-driving shot past Prairie freshman goalkeeper Aiden Neumann.

“Amazing touch by Justin,” Rubel said. “It was a perfect ball right in, and I couldn’t have asked for a better goal.

“I was just thinking, ‘Put it on frame.’ We’ve been working on making sure every shot counts.”

The defense did the rest.

The back line of Roemer, Colin Meyer, Dylan Ollendeick and Brady Hunter cleared about everything that came their direction. When they didn’t, keeper Gabe Johnson was there to snatch it up.

Meyer, Ollendieck and Hunter, all juniors, are club teammates and have years of experience playing together.

“We just had to really be on our game today and we did that,” Meyer said. “There is a good chemistry among us.”

The Hawks (15-3) had 11 shots for the game but only a couple decent looks on target in the second half.

“I felt like we were able to be everywhere,” Roemer said. “Gabe made some huge saves, and as a team we were winning a lot of 50/50 balls in the back.”

It marked just the second time this season Prairie had been held scoreless.

"It is a credit to the five boys (four in back line and goalkeeper), but the reality of it is defense starts from the front," PV coach Wayne Ward said. "I thought our pressing at the front was fantastic.

"We were solid all the way through."

It was the Spartans’ 13th shutout of the season and moves them into a 5:10 p.m. semifinal Thursday against second-seeded Johnston, a 6-0 winner over Cedar Falls.

PV had never been to the state tournament before this season. Now, it has its first victory on this stage and is one of four teams still in contention for the top prize.

“We’ve always been that ‘almost team,’” Meyer said. “This year is our year. We’ve made a name for ourselves this year.”

Those near-misses in the past have been fuel for this squad.

"It shows all those close times of almost making it, it continues to drive us no matter how many times we fall," Roemer said. "Right now, it is about preparing the best we can, control what we can and keep playing."

It was the sixth time this season PV won a match by a goal, the second in the postseason.

"These guys are just setting standards for the next group of kids," Ward said. "We had some freshmen and sophomores here and they're looking up to what the expectation is of the program. We're just creating higher and higher standards every time we play."

Ward had not given much thought to his next opponent. Johnston has scored three or more goals 12 times this season. It has 13 in three postseason matches.

"Only thing I'm thinking of now is," Ward said, "how to get 28 boys something to eat on the way home"


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Sports Editor

Sports editor, with my emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 20 years, the last eight at the Q-C Times.

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